The disputed islands known as Senkaku in Japan and Diaoyu in China in the East China Sea. (JIJI PRESS/AFP/GettyImages)
The disputed islands known as Senkaku in Japan and Diaoyu in China in the East China Sea.
(JIJI PRESS/AFP/GettyImages)

Will China Call America’s Military Bluff?

January 29, 2013  •  From
In Beijing’s escalating territorial dispute with Japan, it sees an opportunity to expose the United States as an unreliable ally.

As a territorial dispute between China and Japan intensifies, Beijing is behaving toward the United States in a way that may initially appear counterintuitive. Although China has not openly sought U.S. mediation in the row, its Foreign Ministry has issued statements designed to provoke increased U.S. involvement.

Why would China want to draw the U.S.—the world’s foremost military power—into the conflict?

There is a clear explanation.

‘This Land Is My Land!’

China claims that the Diaoyu islands—called Senkaku in Japan—have been a part of its territory since 1534 or earlier. Japan rejects those claims and says Tokyo has full sovereignty over them. The dispute has simmered for decades, but it greatly intensified in September 2012 when the Japanese government bought the islands from their private Japanese owner.

The purchase infuriated the Chinese, prompting them to make many incursions into the waters and skies around the islands. These moves are designed to challenge Japanese control.

Washington’s Role

As Japan’s longtime ally, the United States is obliged to defend Tokyo in the row. Although Washington doesn’t take an official stance on the sovereignty of the islands, it recognizes Japanese administrative control of them, and acknowledges that they fall under the U.S.’s security and defense agreements with Japan. Since Tokyo has also admitted shortcomings in its defense abilities that leave it unable to effectively counter Chinese activity around the islands, it’s clear that, in the event of a conflict, Japan would depend significantly on U.S. backing.

The U.S. hopes that its pledge to militarily back Tokyo will frighten China, and prevent Beijing from taking more aggressive action in the dispute.

But does America’s pledge actually intimidate China?

‘Peace in Our Time’

In his second inaugural address on January 21, President Obama mentioned “peace in our time,” a phrase made infamous by former British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain as he promised that the world would have peace with Adolf Hitler before World War ii. Perhaps the president didn’t intend to quote Chamberlain, but the phrase encapsulates the naive nature of his foreign affairs.

“A decade of war is now ending,” Mr. Obama also said. And his actions suggest that he believes his words. He pulled the U.S. out of Iraq in his first term, and has mapped out a plan to follow suit in Afghanistan during his second. His decision to nominate Chuck Hagel as defense secretary screams “anti-interventionist” as loudly as anything could.

Writing for the Financial Times on January 21, Gideon Rachman said: “In foreign affairs, it looks as though Mr. Obama’s biggest goal is to be the president who brought the boys back home. … It is already clear that in the second Obama term, the Pentagon budget will fall—and America will seek to cut back rather than expand its foreign engagements.”

The idea of being drawn into a conflict with China is nearly too unbearable for the current administration to contemplate. And clear understanding of this truth has fueled China’s increasingly provocative rhetoric toward Washington.

Counterintuitive Behavior From Beijing?

On the same day as Mr. Obama’s speech, China’s Foreign Ministry accused Washington of bearing “undeniable historical responsibility on the Diaoyu issue.” Why? This angry charge was made in response to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton saying Washington opposed any action that would undermine Japan’s administration of the islands. Clinton’s comments “ignore facts and confuse truth with untruth. China is strongly displeased and firmly opposed to it,” the Chinese statement continued. It was the second time in a matter of days that Beijing had placed some of the blame on Washington for the Sino-Japanese territorial frictions.

Many analysts wonder why China would spout off provocative rhetoric toward the U.S., since logic suggests that China would want to keep the world’s most powerful military far from the conflict. Taiwan’s Beijing-friendly China Post said the Chinese statements about the U.S. “appear to be an attempt to prompt Washington to use its influence to soften the stance of Japan, which has steadfastly refused to hold talks over the islands” (January 22).

Softening Japan’s stance may be one outcome China desires, but Beijing could be banking on another significantly more far-reaching result: to expose the U.S. military as a force that can be countered.

Beijing views the outcome of any potential confrontation a question of will more than of military might. On this front, the U.S. is at an overwhelming disadvantage. Because of this, the threat of U.S. military involvement may not only fail to deter China from increasing its provocations, it may serve as a prime opportunity for Beijing to expose the U.S. as a timid and unreliable ally to Japan.

Stratfor points out that Beijing may view U.S. involvement in the dispute as an “opportunity to reshape regional perceptions of Washington’s military commitment to Asia” (January 21). Since the U.S. is a war-weary power still struggling to extricate itself from over a decade of war in Afghanistan, “Beijing is calculating that Washington will continue to seek to avoid new conflict in Asia” (ibid).

There is a stark dichotomy between the peace-in-our-time U.S. and increasingly confrontational China. When war becomes a question of will, the outcome between these two is already determined.

‘I Will Break the Pride of Your Power’

If the situation plays out as Beijing hopes, China will be able to vividly prove to America’s allies that Beijing can effectively neutralize U.S. military power in Asia. If the U.S.’s Asian allies see that alliances with America are not reliable, their survival instinct will compel them to instead rally behind China.

Such an outcome would have repercussions far beyond Asia. It would confirm what the U.S.’s Middle Eastern enemies have long suspected, and greatly embolden radical Islam. It would also show Europe that the world needs a new superpower—one with a spine—and hasten the EU’s unification to fill this power vacuum.

The U.S., as a military power, is in rapid decline. This sobering deterioration of America’s military resolve was forecast decades ago by Herbert W. Armstrong. Just after the Bay of Pigs fiasco of 1961, Mr. Armstrong pinned the blame for America’s loss not on the nation’s military, or even on President Kennedy, but on the American people: “Unless or until the United States as a whole repents and returns to what has become a hollow slogan on its dollars: ‘In God we trust,’ the United States of America has won its last war! … [T]he God America has deserted gave it its most humiliating defeat! What does the Cuban debacle mean? It means, Mr. and Mrs. United States, that the handwriting is on your wall!” (Plain Truth, October 1961).

Mr. Armstrong based this sobering forecast on a biblical prophecy about what God would do with America’s will to use its tremendous power if it rejected God’s law: “I will break the pride of your power” (Leviticus 26:19). In the decades since Mr. Armstrong wrote those words, the American people have increasingly rejected God’s law, and the U.S. has thrown varying degrees of its weight behind dozens of military conflicts. Each of the halfhearted efforts has sapped a little more of the nation’s pride in its power.

Then, on Sept. 11, 2012, terrorists attacked the U.S.’s diplomatic mission at Benghazi, Libya, killing four Americans, including U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens—all on the anniversary of the 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center. It was an act of war, and the ultimate insult to the U.S., yet Washington’s bewildering response was to apologize for the production of a video that was not actually related to the attack.

Trumpet editor in chief Gerald Flurry said the U.S.’s flaccid response to that act of war meant the Leviticus 26:19 prophecy had then been fully fulfilled: “It’s no longer God saying, ‘i will break the pride of your power.” It’s now God has broken it! I’ve never seen America in such a low as this!”(Satellite Transmission, October 1, 2012).

The Chinese seem to recognize the U.S.’s shattered will to use its power. And they may well be preparing to put those tatters on display for the whole world. To understand what this broken pride will mean for the U.S. in the years ahead, read The United States and Britain in Prophecy.